The Virginia Opera presented a delightful evening of opera favorites this past Thursday evening in the main auditorium of Fairfax City’s striking new Stacy C. Sherwood Center on Old Lee Highway. Soloists Abigail Paschke, Megan Marino, Jeremiah Johnson, and Drew Duncan were ably accompanied by pianist and apprentice vocal coach Tessa Hartle during this enjoyable but all-too-brief recital highlighting vocal works from Mozart to Franz Lehar.
So what was French composer Georges Bizet up to before he staked his claim to immortality on “Carmen” shortly before he died in 1875? A dozen years before, the 25-year-old Bizet was warming up to scale the “Carmen” heights with another opera, “The Pearl Fishers,” a beautifully staged production that is launching Virginia Opera’s 35th Richmond season this weekend in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage.
Considering the popularity of “Carmen,” you’d think that Georges Bizet’s other major opera, “The Pearl Fishers,” would be at least vaguely familiar. Not really. Many longtime operagoers in this country have never heard, let alone seen, a production. Others know the opera only from this or that excerpt, notably the Act 1 “Pearl Fishers duet” for tenor and baritone.
On Oct. 19, Virginia Opera begins its 35th consecutive season performing in downtown Richmond. From 1978-1983, Virginia Opera was sponsored by Richmond Friends of Opera, led by Anna Garner and a group of opera devotees from across the greater Richmond community. The Friends of Opera provided the foundation for the Opera’s current Central Virginia Board, which came into being in the early ’80s and is now led by Kemper Hyers.
When tenor Chad A. Johnson found out he’d be performing in Virginia Opera’s production of island fantasy “The Pearl Fishers,” he acknowledges having some misgivings.
The Virginia Opera’s current production of Georges Bizet’s early opera, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) at GMU’s Center for the arts this weekend was a delightful surprise. Spare, yet colorful, active without seeming too busy, the production was given a further boost by good to great soloists in the key roles.
This past Sunday I attended a performance of the Virginia Opera’s The Pearl Fishers at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, Virginia. The Virginia Opera is in town for this weekend only, performing Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at GMU.
“A world where the erotic, the indulgent, the uninhibited dance boldly with rituals, taboos and superstitions that dare not be transgressed; a dreamland where the fantastical, the ecstatic, the rhapsodic co-exist recklessly. It is a veritable feast for eye and ear where the imagination can, and should, take flight.”
This is how director Tazewell Thompson describes an approaching Virginia Opera premiere creation.
One really can’t claim that Georges Bizet’s infrequently staged opera “The Pearl Fishers” is a spectacular jewel whose beauties have been hidden too long. But one also can’t deny that, with the help of a strong cast and production, it can be a quite satisfying and moving experience.
The Virginia Opera proved that point Saturday evening with the opening of its new production at the Harrison Opera House. Almost all elements were in alignment, creatively balanced with an emphasis on fine singing.
These days, it’s so easy to collect “friends.” As simple as clicking a button on a Facebook page.
In Georges Bizet’s opera “The Pearl Fishers,” with its island setting that appears timeless, friendship means much more.